“Starr Striker…” is rated PG-13, for giving zero fricks (3 F-bombs).
“All the Fishes, Singing” is rated PG-13, for cuts to skin and scales.
Starr Striker Should Remain Capitol City’s Resident Superhero, by Keisha Cole, 10th Grade Student
By Amanda Helms
Despite the call to ban Starr Striker from Capitol City for “attacking” Captain Thunder, she should remain our resident superhero.
Supports, Including a Minimum of Three Citations
She tweets cute baby octopus pictures every Thursday.
She loves dim sum and cardamom ice cream.
She’s kept her hair natural.
Even though shooting balls of plasma from your fingertips has to be hella painful, she fights for us anyway.
It’s important for young Black women such as myself to have positive Black female role models.
It’s important for all people to have positive Black female role models.
Starr doesn’t care that she’s been the most popular Halloween costume for Capitol City girls aged five to nine — plus some boys — for three years running, and each year she posts pictures of herself with mini Starr Strikers on Facebook and Twitter.
She has a reason for wearing those black stiletto boots that goes beyond looking hot, as when she pinned Magma Master’s hand to the ground with one (“These boots are made for stompin’,” www.superherovids.com).
She insisted on changing the name Doctor Corona gave her from Starr Struck to Starr Striker, saying she’s someone who acts, not someone who is acted upon (“About Starr,” www.starrstriker.com).
She resists the media’s demand that she remain beautiful at all times, as demonstrated in her interview with Capitol City Action News. When the cameraman offered her some powder, she said, “Dude, I’ve spent the last thirty minutes flying into a burning building, saving people. Yes, I’m going to have a shiny forehead.” (“Starr Striker interview.” Capitol City Action News!).
After her fight with Wyld Woman, she apologized about the destruction of the Capitol City Humane Society, promised to pay for its reconstruction, and adopted one of the displaced cats (“Episode 1093.” Capitol City News Hour).
Even that destruction is still just one-tenth the average of what Magma Master, Wyld Woman, and Starr’s former mentor Doctor Corona have caused (“Scourges or Saviors: Statistics on the Destruction Caused by Superpowered Individuals.” Capitol City Monthly).
When female staffers spoke up about being sexually harassed by Mayor White (“Women Accuse Mayor White of Sexual Harassment.” Capitol City Times), there wasn’t the same amount of uproar about impeaching him as there is about banning Starr (“Polls Say Mayor Should Remain in Office.” Capitol City Times).
The reason why Starr blasted Captain Thunder into the wall at the Governor’s Inaugural Ball was because he tried to kiss her without her consent. She’d already made it clear his advances weren’t welcome (Security footage, Governor’s Inaugural Ball 11.01.2036) so people saying she attacked him unprovoked is bullshit. If I’d been able to see that video when I was eleven, maybe I would’ve known how to say no to my uncle.
Maybe I would’ve known saying no was an option in the first place.
Starr has zero fucks to give about people who call her an animal or subhuman or nonhuman, who shout about her “failures” but keep silent about Steel Son’s embezzlement and Magma Master’s heroin addiction and Captain Thunder’s entitlement to female bodies, and she has zero fucks to give people like you, Mr. Thorn, who think that Starr’s “attack” on Captain Thunder — especially when he accosted her first — and the resulting debate about banning her from Capitol City makes “an interesting topical civics assignment requiring a minimum of three sources,” but whether Mayor White should be impeached warrants only a five-minute discussion during which you said we shouldn’t speculate based on only a single resource, “no matter how prestigious” (Thorn, Randall. Civics 111).
Watching her means now I have zero fucks to give about this assignment and how my “failure to adhere to the proper format will result in a nonpassing grade.”
Even if bigots get their way and she’s banned from the city, she’s still my hero.
All the Fishes, Singing
by Hester J. Rook
Mostly, when she dreamt, it was of dancing.
The music burst in bubble-streams through barnacle-encrusted conches and salted weed straps looped about wet-green flesh. Deep, rhythmic drumming scattered small fish — percussion from empty shells. The dancers were blue-green and purpled, blending into their surroundings, spinning like acrobats.
In her dreams, she did not think it strange that music travelled so well through salt water (clear as crystal chimes, as if the music danced along with her, an unseen partner) nor that scaled lips could suck air from sea to blow such sweet chords.
She dreamt often.
When she was a child, her father had seemed full of wisdom. Wisdom and warnings.
Beware of the cliffs; not of the chalky purple face rearing towards the sky, but of its absence. The edge — where bristling scrub dropped away sudden before curled toes, plunging (gasping) to the curled snarl of waves, surging and foaming white veins through the swell.
Beware of the ocean itself; salt burdened and salt bound, rich and heaving, as it trails clawed fingers along the sand and scours at the land edges, ready to snatch children, bright-eyed and tangle-haired, from the shoreline. Or (when her siblings were older) from the tiny fish boats that battled the currents.
Beware of the fish knives, the fish hooks, the fish nets; waiting silent and cunning, silver-kissed and weed-caught, to slide iron into flesh, to tangle around limbs, seeking bright blood (red pulsing pearls) and drownings.
Her father’s voice was gravel worn smooth by the ocean, his hands a crisscross of pale scarring, hair sun-bleached and smelling of seaweed, salt, and fish (fresh and rotting), face lined like ocean swells.
She dreamt often.
Dancing was hard underwater. Her legs tangled in her skirts, which flowed like wind-ripped petals. The sea floor was dangerous; she trod soft sand, which puffed under her feet on the current, slamming down with her next step onto coral, rocks, and the smaller shell-creatures. They peeled open her feet like razors when she stumbled, her flesh opening like a blooming flower, and her ankles were clouds of red as the current dissipated blood.
She was spun between laughing partners with trailing green hair and teeth like sharpened pearls, gripped firmly with webbed hands, and devoured by gleaming eyes made of joy and yearning.
Sometimes, dream-drugged, she did not think she ever awoke.
Her father’s warnings changed as she grew older. Her hips had begun to flare out from her waist like the curve of a bell. Her face had shaped itself: grown cheekbones sharp as flint, eyes heavy-lashed. Her breasts had swelled, her nipples pointed pearls.
She felt eyes follow her each time she walked into town weighed down with baskets of silver gleaming fish, rainbow scales flashing with sunlight.
Beware of the young men, with their bear eyes and their canine smiles, as they gather in the town streets, learn their trades, or ride in from far away on sweat-lathered ponies with rolling eyes and panting tongues.
Her father needn’t have worried; these young, staring men held no interest for her.
Her brothers, however, received very different warnings.
Beware the ocean creatures; beware the merrow, with their witch-green hair, their ocean-dyed skin, webbed fingers, and fish-scaled tails. Beware the merrow, with their green-slicked beauty, sharp-toothed smiles, and soft nakedness. Beware the merrow, who hunt human men and sing: sing like sorrow and honey; sing like sugared figs and salt; sing like the ocean is dying and the stars are melting, golden and unctuous, down the sky.
And the men who hear this song go willingly under the waves, where the merrow love them and send them mad with dreams.
He would tell her brothers this, sincere and soft, as the wind whipped through his salt-encrusted hair.
Her mother would laugh, dry and quiet, crinkling her seal-grey eyes; for what would he know of the creatures of the sea?
Most often in her dreams, she danced the masúrca. She stepped fast and stumbling, her partners’ fingers deep in her sides, crushing her hands. Her hair haloed around her in the green-grey depths. Time was slow here. Stagnant. The dull roar of the waves far above her head was drowned by the music — so thick and fast and whirling.
Tiny crabs scuttled between her feet, white and blind, as coral razored up towards the surface and grey-gilled minnows darted under her skirts and between her fingers, bursting about her like silvered autumn leaves snatched by a breeze.
Bubbles caught in her throat, peeled back her lips, and burst from her teeth. Her latest partner, scaled and as beautiful as a knife edge, spun her around.
She was a fish-catcher and fish-seller; the sea was in her blood. Every morning, she would go down to the shore as the sunrise kissed the distant mountains gold and the blue shadows retreated down the cliff faces. The darkness drained slow as syrup.
The morning was her favourite time. The sand was still night-cold, and the shore was scattered with sea gifts thrown up by the ocean overnight: polished stones, twisted dried branches, bits of netting, strange foreign coins, sea-scoured glass. It would all be taken by scavengers by the time she returned, salt-licked and exhausted, as the sun reached its apex in the sky, ready to bring her catch to market with her father and brothers. Often, the sea treasures would turn up on adjacent stalls — no longer soft and shining as the sun sucked the sea-gloss from their skins.
Her calloused hands had become deft and clever. Crisscrosses of white puckered scars slashed them, old wounds from hook and knife (just like her father’s). She would push the boat out, steady in the waves, sling the sea-stained net over the side, and haul in her glittering catch. There was a rhythm to it — a soft sway-to. And, unlike her father, she did not work in silence. She sang.
Sometimes she dreamt of food, too. Giant feasts on coral tables — bleached white or bursting with colour. The meals (fish and squid, crab and clam, red weed and black mussel) swam, scuttled, or floated across its surface, shellfish studding the coral. The creatures would dart, quick with terror, as her companions, fast as whips, speared and devoured them. Down so deep, the fish blood and ink rose dark as thunder.
One of her dance partners kept closer than the others, an arm about her waist (her dress was shredded now, from rocks, and currents, and time, so that webbed fingers clutched cold-puckered skin). The creature speared green-grey prawns with sharpened nails and brought them to her lips. She took the food gently. Her partner pressed against her back. She could feel the peach softness of breast and the prick of nipple, hard and blue as sapphire, against her shoulder blade. Despite the ocean chill, she burned.
That day, the sky was storm-tossed. She rose earlier than normal, leaving her family tucked warm in bed as she crept towards the ocean. The chill sea breeze thrilled her and left goosebumps down her arms. The sun had barely crested the horizon. Its dewy fingers reached out warm and cradled the very tips of the distant mountains so their peaks glowed warm. The sky was dusted with rose. The remaining clouds glowed topaz in the paling dark.
She pushed out her boat. The sand was heavy and wet under her feet. She could feel the tug of tide pushing at the dinghy, bumping bruises against her shins.
With heavy, practised strokes, she pulled on the oars, chipping at the waves and manoeuvring the boat to sea. And as she rowed, she sang.
She sang sea shanties and ditties, silly songs and nursery rhymes, hymns and ballads, but, mostly, songs of the sea. Of throwing nets and hauling in catches, of gutting gleaming sea bass and cod, flathead and leatherjacket, their insides jewel red, hearts still beating gently as the knife split the gullets. But mostly, she sang of the sea itself, the sea and the storm and the waves — fierce as hunting dogs, gentle as dandelions.
And, as she sang, she worked.
She threw her net, jewelled with glinting dew. She pulled in small armfuls of thrashing fish. She ignored the rope’s cut and her arms’ ache as she hauled in the merrow.
And her singing stopped.
The creature was naked and wet and dripping. Her green hair was coiled above her head in complex braids threaded with seaweed. Her skin was ocean slick and heaving, her breasts the colours of a bruise, her tail chainmail scaled and gleaming. Her eyes were the oil slick of oyster shells.
The colour rose to her cheeks, red and burning, but she was unafraid. She had listened to her father’s warnings. She was a woman and so, safe from the merrow.
But even as she thought this, even before the merrow started her song, she knew she would willingly follow this beautiful creature anywhere.
In her dreams, the singing haunted her. The songs tasted of caramel plums, the sharp bite of blood, and the memory of kindness. They smelled like fresh bread, salt tears, and the caress of the wind. They felt like starlight on a crisp night, the tangle of knotted hair, and like gasping. And, joyfully, she danced. Her merrow took her in her arms and spun her along the sea floor, and she laughed with pleasure. Their skin flashed like diamond as they spun.
And, waking, dreaming, as she stared into ink-dark eyes, she willed with all her being that she need never leave.
About the Authors
Amanda Helms is a science fiction and fantasy writer whose fiction has appeared in The Cackle of Cthulhu anthology, Daily Science Fiction, Cast of Wonders, and elsewhere. Amanda blogs infrequently at amandahelms.com and tweets with a smidgen more frequency @amandaghelms. She and her husband live in Colorado with their increasingly lazy Boxer mix.
Hester J. Rook is a Rhysling Award nominated writer and co-editor of Twisted Moon Magazine, often found salt-scrunched on beaches, reading arcane tales and losing the moon in big mugs of tea. Find Hester on Twitter @hesterjrook and read more poems and stories at https://hesterjrook.com.
About the Narrators
Maxine is a creative who has dabbled in a variety of fields, including theater, film, radio, photography and now, voice acting! She can often be found watching movies and arguing about them, drinking tea, traveling, or enjoying a good book. She lives with her husband in the Washington D.C. area.
Nadia Niaz is a writer, editor, and academic who is now mostly from Melbourne and still a little bit from lots of other places. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and Cultural studies and teaches poetry and creative writing to everyone from pre-schoolers to postgraduates. She’s a member of the West Writers Group and the founder of the Australian Multilingual Writing Project.
About the Artist
Yuumei is an illustrator, comic artist, and designer. Her works include Knite and Fisheye Placebo webcomic series, Axent Wear Cat Ear Headphones, and various art that focuses on environmentalism, fantasy, and human nature. You can read her comics for free at YuumeiArt.com, Follow her on Instagram, or support her on Patreon.